In a case about campaign money, the Supreme Court rules in favor of Ted Cruz.
The Texas senator fought against a federal law that said candidates couldn't use post-election donations to pay back more than $250,000.
Monday, the Supreme Court sided with Senator Ted Cruz in his fight against a federal law that limits how candidates can get money back from their own campaigns. The decision was the latest in a long line of decisions that have thrown out parts of campaign finance rules based on the First Amendment.
The court decided, by a vote of 6 to 3, that Mr. Cruz, a Republican from Texas, should be able to get the money he gave to his campaign in 2018 back through donations made after the election. In a majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the challenged law "burdens core political speech without proper justification," which goes against the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court has said that campaign finance limits can only be made if there is corruption or the appearance of corruption. Chief Justice Roberts wrote, "We treat the claim of an anti-corruption interest here with some skepticism."
In an opinion that was different from the majority, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the law was clearly meant to stop corruption.
"Repaying a candidate's loan after he has been elected cannot serve the usual purposes of a contribution," she wrote. "The money comes too late to help with any of his campaign activities." All the money does is make the candidate richer at a time when he can return the favor, like by voting for him, giving him a job, or getting him a contract. It doesn't take a political genius to see that corruption is more likely."
The main point of disagreement was whether giving money to winning candidates to help them pay back personal loans they took out for their campaigns was a form of political speech or a type of gift that could be used to influence voters.
The law being fought over put a limit of $250,000 on how much personal loans from candidates to their campaigns could be paid back with money from donations made after the election. Mr. Cruz gave $260,000 to his 2018 re-election campaign because he wanted to see if the law was legal.
A related rule says that loans of more than $250,000 can be paid back as long as the money comes from donations before the election and the loan is paid back within 20 days of the election. But the campaign didn't pay Mr. Cruz back by that date, so he was in danger of losing $10,000.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote that it was clear from the court's past decisions that candidates can spend as much of their own money as they want on their own campaigns. He said that the 2018 Senate race in Texas was at the time the most expensive in history.
He wrote that the law being challenged "makes it impossible for candidates to lend money to their campaigns in the first place, which limits core speech."
The chief justice wrote that loans were especially important for people running against people who were already in office.
"As a matter of practicality, personal loans may be the only way for an unknown challenger with few connections to spend money on their campaign early on," he wrote. "And early spending, which means early expression, is key to a newcomer's success. A large personal loan may also be a good way for a political outsider to show that he or she is confident enough in their campaign to put their own money into it. This will get the attention of both donors and voters.
Chief Justice Roberts also said that the usual limit on contributions of $2,900 was still in place under the law. This means that 86 donations can be made before the $250,000 limit is reached, which goes against the idea that the law fights corruption.
He said that there was no proof that the law led to corruption because candidates whose loans are repaid are just getting their money back. "If the candidate didn't have enough money to buy a car before he gave a loan to his campaign, paying back the loan wouldn't change that in any way," Chief Justice Roberts wrote.
Justice Kagan wrote in her dissent that this argument "completely misses the point."
"However much money a candidate has before he lends money to his campaign," she wrote, "he has less afterward. The size of the hole in his bank account is the size of the loan." So, he can't buy anything he could buy with, say, $250,000, like a car, but that's not the point. That is, until his backers pay him back."
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett agreed with the majority, while Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor disagreed.
The case, Federal Election Commission v. Ted Cruz for Senate, No. 21-12, started when Mr. Cruz sued the commission in front of a special three-judge district court in Washington. He said that the repayment cap was against the First Amendment.
"Protections for political speech extend to campaign financing because effective speech costs money," Judge Rao wrote. "The loan-repayment limit infringes on fundamental rights of speech and association without serving a substantial government interest."
The Biden administration defended the law in front of the Supreme Court by saying that Mr. Cruz's campaign had more than $2 million left over after the election and could have legally paid him back from that money if it had done so within 20 days. Lawyers for the government said that he caused his own injury.
Chief Justice Roberts didn't agree with that argument and said that Mr. Cruz could challenge the law's constitutionality.
When the case was argued in January, Charles J. Cooper, a lawyer for Mr. Cruz and his campaign, said that contributors should be able to "exercise the First Amendment right to associate with the winner and to hope that this will result in the kind of influence and access that support for a candidate gets."